Yoennis Cépedes has done some pretty heavy slugging in the last two or three seasons: last winter he knocked home 78 runs (tied for third in the league RBI department with teammate Alfredo Despaigne), was one of four Cuban Leaguers to log 200-plus total bases, and trailed only Santiago’s Alexei Bell in the home run chase (with 26, to Bell’s 31). But last week (January 9) Céspedes apparently did something for the record books when he went hitless in six total plate appearances (four official at-bats) on the road versus Habana Province and yet managed to get credit for driving home three tallies.
This strange feat has likely been turned somewhere along the line in more than a century and a quarter of major league baseball, but I certainly couldn’t tell you when or where. In fact, if there is any Sabermetrics-type statistics aficionado out there who happens to have a parallel case at his fingertips, I would love to know about it. I don’t believe this has ever happened in the Cuban League either; in fact, it is probably an occurrence rarely paralleled anywhere in baseball annals, at any level. This stunt seems to rank right up there among top Cuban League oddities with Armando Capiró once flying into a triple play (I won’t go into the painful details here) yet at the same time driving home a game-winning run.
The Céspedes performance went into the record books during a 10-6 slugfest at Nelson Fernández Stadium in San José, which found the Oriente Division basement dwellers upending the host Habana Province Occidente Division league leaders. Although Granma teammate Ramón Tamayo knocked out two doubles and a single in five at-bats (scoring three times), while three other Stallions also each singled twice, Céspedes remained the game’s batting star without a single safety to his credit. So how did the Granma center fielder manage to do it? His six plate appearances are summarized as follows:
Batting in his normal third slot in the order, Céspedes reached base for one of two times all evening in the first frame against Habana starter Miguel Alfredo González, doing so when shortstop Rolando Méndez bobbled his harmless bouncer to the left side of the infield. On his next two plate appearances, in the second and fourth innings, Céspedes was retired on equally harmless pop flies to second baseman Ernesto Molinet; both outs were registered while facing the same pitcher (González) who wasn’t knocked from the box until the sixth. Since there were men on base for all three of Céspedes’s first three at-bats, a couple of big knocks might well have given him an even bigger night in the run-producing department. But entering the sixth inning the Granma slugger had not yet produced a single tally.
Then things got interesting. In the sixth (now his fourth at-bat) Céspedes finally produced at least something: he drove a long fly to right fielder Ruby Silva that brought home leadoff man Ramón Tamayo from third (a sacrifice fly for RBI number one). This long out came off a delivery from reliever Richard Aguilera. Céspedes reappeared yet again the next inning (it was obviously a long night for Habana Province pitching) against a fourth bull pen replacement, Ariel Miranda. Céspedes was, in fact, now handed a real chance to blow the (then still 6-5) game wide open, since the bases were jammed with Granma base runners. Surprisingly (given the normal Céspedes penchant for productivity) the result was little more than another harmless infield roller to short that forced a runner at second yet also brought home Yamel Morales from third (a second RBI despite a most disappointing at-bat).
Céspedes had yet another chance to deliver in the ninth with his sixth straight trip to the batter’s box with runners in scoring position. This time around there was a repeat performance of the sixth-inning flop: a lofty opposite field fly to right fielder Silva which nevertheless sent Tamayo scampering home from third yet again. Céspedes was facing a fourth different pitcher at the time, Israel Sánchez.
In the box score it all looked fairly productive; Céspedes rapped home a game-high three of his team’s nine earned runs (a tenth scored on another Habana miscue). But had Céspedes been able to smack a few gap-finding line drives instead of all night producing tame pop-outs or infield rollers he might well have driven home as many as eight or nine teammates. Some big run producers somehow just manage to get it done, even when plagued with a definite off-night at the plate. But few have ever been more proficient at slumping straight into a big night in the box score than Yoennis Céspedes last week in Habana Province.